Bishop’s Curse Part II
By: J. C. Eickelberg
All the soldiers looked at the killer. He looked to his comrade-in-arms, calling out some who shared comments about the music. Agitated sounds from outside went unnoticed. Heavy doors slammed open and boomed when they hit the wall. A shadow filled the doorway. It passed through the group to fall across the musician. Screams of astonishment spread around the Bishop’s men. The figure stopped by the fallen musician. It stood head and shoulders above the assembly. Space appeared around the Monsignor, musician and massive figure. Murmurs of astonishment went around the group.
“Who stopped the music?” The voice reverberated in the vast building. He looked at each man in turn.
“I did, Gargoyle,” came the voice of the soldier.
“It’s not proper music for a house of worship. Neither are you, Abomination!” Bishop Cornelius spoke up as the musician’s killer advanced. Monsignor was shocked to hear the senior cleric speak up so severely. He hadn’t mentioned his disfavor of the music until it was too late to make a change.
“Stop,” Monsignor interjected. His voice boomed over his guests. Eyes locked on the younger cleric. “There will be no more violence in my church. You will answer for your actions.”
Bishop Cornelius was uncertain of the massive figure. He stood among his entourage. Now he came forward. “Monsignor, you will answer for allowing this creature in a house of God.”
Monsignor wasn’t moved. “Bishop. As far as this town is concerned, myself included, this creature is a protecting angel. One of many. They defend us from invasion and pestilence. In return, we give them music, whether in voice or by an instrument. The organ is their most loved form of music.”
“Nonsense,” Bishop intoned. “They are animals. No house of worship should be defiled by their presence.” He pointed at the gargoyle and looked to the captain of the guard. “Remove that thing from this church.”
Soldiers moved in. Dozens of voices came alive. Everyone reacted to the cacophony. All looked to the choir loft. Standing, sitting and occupying every available space was a gargoyle. Each sounding a warning to the visitors. The guards faced the gargoyles, surrounding the Bishop. The massive gargoyle stood his ground, unperturbed.
“Bishop, your visit here is over,” Monsignor announced. “My flock has spoken. One of yours killed one of mine. You may not welcome gargoyles, but I do. So does this town. I will not stand for more violence in this church, or town. I cannot guarantee your safety any longer. No one in your traveling party is welcome here anymore.” His voice held authority Cornelius flinched at.
Sounds of mayhem from outside brought attention to the doors. Bishop Cornelius looked back to Monsignor Marcus. Fear convulsed Cornelius’s countenance when he saw the gargoyles had descended to their level. There were twenty gargoyles for every person present. Only the aisle to the door remained clear.
“Monsignor,” Bishop Cornelius said. He locked his gaze on the younger cleric. “If this is your flock, I curse you and your flock to forever live as one. Women will give birth to the offspring of the animals they care for.” He locked a scornful gaze on Marcus.
“May you have safe travels home,” Marcus replied in good faith. Marcus wasn’t fazed by the bishop’s words. All humans were as welcome in his church as the animals they brought in with them.
As Bishop Cornelius exited the church, Marcus pondered the significance of a curse from a religious figure. Curses were spoken and believed by practitioners of the dark arts. Witches cursed people, not a church leader. Marcus wasn’t concerned about a curse from a cleric. His concern was for the well-being of his community and parishioners.
Marcus turned to see his organist being taken away. Shadows sailed across the windows. Horses and soldiers clamored to get ready for travel. Gargoyles walled off the Bishop’s group from returning inside. Noises from the organist’s pit brought Marcus’s attention to the vacated keyboard. An alternate organist was getting ready to play. Signals went to his assistants to start working the organ’s bellows. Notes and tones murmured as the organist warmed up. Six bars into his warm up the organ wound up to full volume. Notes of ‘Toccata and Fugue’ rattled any loose items in the cathedral. Windows vibrated in their frames. Marcus had to take refuge in the courtyard. Ringing ears and physical discomfort followed him out.
Groups of gargoyles had taken wing from all directions, blocking the sun like storm clouds. Every clan within earshot responded to the call of danger. No living gargoyle remained still as Bishop Cornelius’s group left town as fast as their tired mounts could go. Every animal nearby voiced their displeasure with the organ’s volume. Birds able to take flight did. A falconer had his birds hooded, but still had to sooth his charges. Marcus noted all flying masses routed themselves along the road leading away from town.
“Monsignor,” a page said, running to him. He was out of breath. Marcus calmed him. “A mounted unit is running out of the forest to meet the Bishop. There’s going to be trouble for Bishop Cornelius.”
“Yes, there is,” Marcus agreed. “Is everyone back from hunting?”
“Yes, Monsignor. They told me about the soldiers coming towards town.”
“Unfortunately, the Bishop hasn’t been agreeable to us.”
“Why? I heard him speak so highly of our town.”
“He doesn’t like our dealings with the gargoyles and animals. Our friendship with them wasn’t acceptable to him.” The page was crestfallen to hear this. He looked up, realizing something. “Why is Master Garrett playing the organ?”
“How do you know he’s playing?”
“This is his call-to-arms piece. I recognize his playing. Master Gregor should be playing.”
“I have some bad news.” Monsignor’s face saddened. “Master Gregor was killed by one of the soldiers waiting for the Bishop.”
Despair crossed the page’s face. Gregor was Garrett’s twin brother. They were equals in everything they did. Music was now deafening inside. Outside the volume was tolerable when the page arrived. Now both could feel the music’s intensity in their bones. Marcus, in all his years leading this church, had never heard the organ played so loudly, so intensely.
Marcus led the page to a lookout tower at the far corner of the building. They witnessed the gargoyles dive toward the horsemen. Gargoyles dove with the grace of a hawk. They gained altitude with a rider before dropping them. Some soldiers flailed, trying to swim to safety. Some fell like stones. Bishop Cornelius’s outbound contingent was unceremoniously dispatched. Few members of his inbound contingent fell victim to the onslaught. Experienced leaders retreated back to the forested hills to wait out the attack.
Bishop Cornelius and his group were properly laid to rest. Monsignor Marcus made sure everyone was calmed and repairs were made. Master Gregor was interred in regal fashion. His brother played solemn pieces at the service. Every member of the church turned out to pay their respects. During the service, all parishioners passed by, saying their goodbyes, and commenting on the music. Garrett was present at the graveside service. Monsignor presided over all ceremonies. Every townsperson, organist, and cleric were present. As people dispersed Marcus pulled Garrett aside.
“Master Garrett. Who’s playing the organ?” Marcus asked.
“No one,” Garrett replied. “You don’t suppose Gregor is making his presence known?”
“Perhaps,” Marcus said. Gregor was a dedicated organist in life. In death, he seemed unable to part with the best instrument in existence.
Life went on adjusting to the loss of a much-loved musician. Weeks passed, life returned to normal. Bishop Cornelius’s visit faded from memory. Marriages and births brought light back to the community. Organ music kept the townspeople in good spirits. Gargoyles flew and performed their acrobatics like any other day. Good memories dimmed for Monsignor Marcus when parents brought their newborns to him. Parents of one youth he remembered brought their newborn for a visit.
“How is you litter doing, Marie?” he asked the young girl.
“Very well, Monsignor,” she said. “They’re very playful.”
“That’s nice to hear.” He smiled at her, turned to her parents and asked, “What brings you here?”
“Our son,” Marie’s mother said. “He wasn’t born right.” She controlled sobs, but tears leaked down her cheeks.
“He’s different from other children,” Marie’s father stated.
“Let’s see him,” Marcus said, calmly. He hadn’t seen this level of fear since Bishop Cornelius’s departure.
Marcus looked at the bundled form. His heart chilled at the sight of the newborn. A small hand reached out for his finger. Hairiness had been seen before. In front of him, swaddled by his loving mother was the face heavily influenced by a lynx. Roundness in shape of an infant was covered in soft fuzz. Ears, slender like his mother’s, had the distinct tufts of a lynx, and the mouth and nose stuck out like a kitten’s. Father, mother, and sister had no traits of a lynx.
“He’s as beautiful as his family,” Marcus said.
“No one in our family has any resemblance to him, or near as much hair,” mother said. The baby cooed, almost purred. “Other mothers have similar concerns.” She pointed out other parents approaching Marcus and her family.
Similarly, swaddled infants paraded forward to be shown their altered appearances. An assortment of irregularities presented themselves. Canine and feline traits morphed with human traits were most common. Faces and limbs displayed all sorts of combinations. Fingers and toes were lengthened to various degrees, ending in equal varieties of nails and claws. Spread through the congregation were gargoyle broods. Their youth showed equal influences of humans.
Monsignor Marcus looked around. All newborns were unique in their appearance and loved by the parents. He stepped into an impromptu sermon about God’s love of man, beast and the willingness of all present to live next to each other. He preached love of all God’s creatures. Background ambiance of the organ kept people calm. Everyone left the sermon even more enamored by their recent additions. The shock of the unusualness of each infant disappeared.
“Monsignor, you gave a wonderful sermon,” came a firm voice.
“Thank you, Turok. Everyone was more accepting than I believed possible,” Marcus said. He turned to leave.
Turok followed Marcus. “You seem worried.”
“Turok, during Bishop Cornelius’s visit, he voiced a curse referencing our cohabitation. I took it as heated words and passed it off. He cursed our children to be mixed with animals their families cared for.” He turned to look at the taller being. “What are your thoughts?”
“Being a senior member of your church, he may have knowledge of dark arts to keep tabs on its practitioners. Perhaps he was tempted to experience the power of those dark arts. Unfortunately, I’ve seen its use, just not to this extent,” Turok said.
“You’re more insightful than any bishop I’ve ever met.”
“Bishop Cornelius…” Turok searched for the right phrasing.
“Was corrupt and power hungry,” Marcus finished. “I recognized his desire to claim this cathedral as his.” They walked in silence for a minute.
“Now we live with the changelings,” Turok said.
“Yes, we do,” Marcus agreed. “We’ve cohabitated all these years and are as neighborly as can be.”
“Now we learn to live with a new progeny and teach them a new way of life,” Turok said.
“Our ancestors adapted to each other,” Marcus reminisced.
“And we will continue to live just fine together,” Turok stated.
“Care for lunch, old friend?” Marcus asked.
“I’d be happy to join you. Audrey does wonders in the kitchen.”
They sat down to eat. Lynx cubs playfully greeted them when they entered the dining room. Marie hurried after them. Her parents settled down on one side of the table. Turok looked at their newborn. A hand swiped at him.
“As playful and beautiful as his sister,” Turok admired.
“Thank you,” Marie’s mother said. She accepted her new child as easily as the gargoyle next to her. “I hope he won’t shed too bad as he grows.”
“That may be the least of your worries,” Turok said. He looked over to see one cub balancing on the mantle while a littermate leapt for a butterfly flying through the room.